By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Now, Petronius: Some Things Don't Change



To be honest, I do not much like what I have read of Petronius; but some parts are indeed funny. In addition, his writings do capture the details of daily life in the Rome of Nero's time, that is, the Rome of the time of the Apostles Peter and Paul.

Here is one excerpt of a citizen complaining at Trimalchio's Dinner Party using the very skilled translation of Sarah Ruden (remember her name; she also has a fine translation of the Aeneid to her credit):

Nobody seems to care how the cost of bread gets you. Today I couldn't find a mouthful I could afford. And the way this drought is keeping up--for a whole year now it's pure starvation. I hope the aediles [officials overseeing the food supply] get what they deserve for playing the bakers' game. 'You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.' That's why the little people are having such a hard time, and the bigwigs have Saturnalia [a December festival] all year round. . . . The town's growing backwards like a calf's tail. How come? Well, we've got this two-bit aedile who'd sell us for a penny. He's sittin' all cozy at home, makes more money in a day than anybody else has got in the family. And now I know where he got that thousand gold denarii, though I'm not sayin'. If we had any ****, we'd wipe that grin off his face. But the people are lions at home and foxes in public.

Petronius, The Satyricon, 44 (Ruden translation; see Amazon image; emphasis added).

The civic ideal is a citizen who avoids cynicism toward politics. But reality contributes to cynicism. Much of politics--legislative, executive, and even judicial--is all about officeholders following the money at our expense. But, of course, these princes are worth it since they are sacrificing so much to serve us. Yet, often voters also are to blame for enabling the princes of plunder.

You can think of astounding elections, whether in the inner city or in conservative Republican areas, where voters reelect people who are fleecing them in one way or another. Lions at home, foxes in public. Every prince needs an enabler.